November 7 2013
Looks like the FDA is sniffing around for another project. After efforts to regulate sodium levels in processed food failed in light of new medical research, which questioned the relationship between salt and cardiovascular disease, the FDA's itching to find a new target. Enter trans-fat—a type of shortening that makes pies flaky and fried chicken extra crispy. The New York Times reports:
Under the proposal, which is open for public comment for 60 days, the agency would declare that partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats, were no longer “generally recognized as safe,” a legal category that permits the use of salt and caffeine, for example.
That means companies would have to prove scientifically that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat, a very high hurdle given that scientific literature overwhelmingly shows the contrary. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats.
There's a lot to say about this proposed regulation but what really grates is that food manufacturers have already reacted to consumer demand for trans-fat free products. It makes one wonder, do these regulators actually ever enter a grocery store? Do they shop? Do they actually buy food? Are they blind to all the "trans-fat free" labels, which are boldly displayed on nearly every fried and baked product? Why this sudden rush to regulate a product that is already being phased out? Sure, there's still the odd trans-fat filled pastry on the shelves, but if a consumer cares about this issue, it’s simple to find food products that suit their particular dietary needs.
So-called "foodies" also should be aware that this is yet another food regulation that will disproportionally hurt small food businesses because large food manufacturers have mostly stopped using trans fats. The ones still using this type of shortening are smaller manufactuers, small restaurants (including many ethinic restaurants) and mom and pop style upstarts (think of a woman baking pies in her kitchen). It's important to remember that these regulations help support Big Food because it drives the little guy out of business.
Look, no one wants to be a cheerleader for trans-fats. I avoid them myself and cook mainly with olive and other healthy oils. But the move to designate trans-fats as unsafe is going a bit overboard. After all, no one's snacking on handfuls of Crisco (yes, that would probably be bad for you and you’ll lose friends…and gross out the ladies!). Trans-fats are simply an ingredient (among many) used to produce higher-calorie pies and pastries and fried food. It doesn't take a nutritionist to point out that the foods made with trans-fats are probably best to be avoided—and not solely because of the trans-fat but because in general these foods tend to be unhealthy and high calorie.
FDA regulators are no different from other agency regulators. Their view of the American consumer is grim. We’re dumb, confused, overwhelmed by the simple task of shopping at the grocery store, and desperately in need of guidance by our benevolent government betters.